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GOP leaders diverge on Trump, putting party in limbo

WASHINGTON (AP) – One by one, Republican congressional leaders made the trip to Mar-a-Lago to see Donald Trump.

Kevin McCarthy surrendered after the murderous insurgency on Capitol Hill on January 6, counting on the help of the former president to regain control of the House in 2022. Republican Senate Campaign Committee Chairman Rick Scott, stopped to enlist Trump in his efforts to regain the Senate. . Lindsey Graham is going to play golf.

But absent from the appearances was perhaps the nation’s most powerful Republican elected official, Mitch McConnell, a former ally who carried through the former president’s legislative and judicial agenda but now claims he wants nothing more to do with it. with Trump.

The very public pilgrimages and the notable refusal to make one have placed Congressional Republicans at a crossroads, with one branch of the party remaining close to Trump, hoping to harness the power of his political brand and loyal voters for their campaigns, and the others are breaking up, trying to chart the GOP’s post-Trump future.

With no apparent heir or pending leader, the standoff between the party’s two most senior figures poses a difficult test of political will and loyalty, especially for grassroots lawmakers in Congress who depend on it. of the two men for their policy. means of subsistence. Congress has become more Trump-like in the absence of the former president, as a new generation of Trump-aligned lawmakers emerge, especially in the Senate, and more centrist Republicans announce their retirement.

“We have enough problems without fighting within ourselves,” said Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., Who took office this year with Trump’s backing.

“You know, as a football coach, that’s what I would say to our players and coaches,” he said. “You bring down your whole team. So that’s pretty much what I think of it. As a team, we don’t need to argue among teammates. We just need them to be on the floor. same wavelength.

The austere fallout was exposed during the Republican donor retreat when Trump attacked McConnell as a “rock-hard loser” but was later honored with an honorary award from Scott, the chairman of the Senate Committee. National Republican who launched the campaign efforts.

Asked about it later, McConnell responded with perhaps the sharpest line of all: he simply ignored Trump.

“What I’m focusing on is the future,” said McConnell, the Republican leader of the Senate.

Unlike former presidents who did not win a second term, the end of Trump’s presidency did not bring closure as much as it has lingering uncertainty on Capitol Hill on the party’s path to return to power. He promises to return to the political arena, possibly for his own White House candidacy. But more immediately, he is enlisted by GOP leaders to support congressional candidates to win back the House and Senate.

As McConnell tries to position Republicans as opposition to President Joe Biden’s agenda, it’s clear that while he is the leader of the Senate, Trump remains, for now, the leader of the GOP.

“Is it ideal? I do not know. But is it sustainable? Of course, ”said Scott Jennings, a GOP strategist and longtime McConnell confidant. “It’s easy to see how the two of them could frankly succeed in their individual goals without ever saying a word to each other.”

Jennings said McConnell and Trump weren’t looking for power so much as they were bringing complementary skills to future campaigns. The former president can bolster his base of supporters with rally-style speeches while McConnell can pull together campaign strategies and candidates to regain control of the Senate.

“One of them is in party-building mode, which is McConnell, and the other is in ax-crushing mode,” he said.

“They don’t have to be golf buddies,” he says.

Congressional leaders want and expect Trump to play a role in next year’s midterm elections as they attempt to wrest control from Democrats, who have the thinnest majorities in the House and Senate in recent memory.

“God, yes,” Graham, RS.C. “He sits on a mountain of money and has a 90% approval rating among Republicans.”

McCarthy, the Republican House leader, said Trump has been helpful in House GOP campaign efforts so far. “Like all past presidents, they help, they are engaged in different ways,” said McCarthy.

Yet as Trump assembles a political operation from his private club in Florida, his biggest priority so far appears to be trying to defeat some of the party’s most prominent lawmakers, including the US Senator. Alaska Lisa Murkowski and the representative from Wyoming. voting to remove him following the January 6 uprising.

While Trump has also endorsed some GOP incumbents, other Republican lawmakers, particularly in the Senate, have simply announced their retirement.

When asked specifically if Trump should stop attacking Republican Party leaders, McCarthy objected.

“The # 1 thing I want to do is make the next century the American century,” he said. “If the next century is ours, we’re going to have to change administration, we’re going to have to change Congress. It’s my aim. “

The deadly riot has become a political dividing line on Capitol Hill over GOP lawmakers who stood alongside Trump to overturn Biden’s victory in the Electoral College count. Trump was impeached for inciting an insurgency as he urged a host of supporters to “fight like hell” for his presidency.

One of the lawmakers that Trump recently approved is Alabama GOP Representative Mo Brooks, who is running for the Senate seat that will be vacant with the retirement of longtime GOP Senator Richard Shelby.

Brooks had been a leader in House efforts to challenge the election results and joined the rally outside the White House on January 6. Trump encouraged the crowd that day to come to Capitol Hill. Five people died, including a Trump supporter shot dead by police and a policeman who later died after fighting the mob of Trump worshipers who stormed the Capitol.

At a dinner last month in Mar-a-Lago, Scott said he was encouraging the president’s support to win back the Senate – after the primaries were settled.

Many Republicans remember the 2010 election when they regained control of the House, but not the Senate, because some of the candidates who won the primary elections on the Tea Party Wave were too conservative or intransigent to attract voters. across the state.

Shelby said he wanted the former president and McConnell to “put their differences aside,” heeding President Ronald Reagan’s warning not to fight.

“Are Republicans fighting Republicans taking advantage of it?” Democrats, ”Shelby said.

“I wish he stayed out of all Senate races, but he’s not,” Shelby said of Trump.

“He has a lot of energy, he has a dedicated clientele. I don’t think he’s looking to retire.

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